Then people will say,
“Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
surely there is a God who judges the earth.”
Psalm 58:11 (NIV)
My buddy, Spike, and I have a friendly on-going conversation about baseball. Spike is a life-long fan of the New York Yankees. He even tried to get me to be a fan in our younger years. He bought me a subscription to a Yankees fan magazine one year. While I will always appreciate and respect his passion, he failed to convert me.
In baseball fandom, the Yankees are that team that everyone loves to hate. It’s the same kind of schadenfreude that America has had for New England Patriots the last ten years. Baseball, however, is a much older sport and the animosity runs much deeper. The Yankees are a team that everyone loves to hate, and when it comes time for the postseason I believe that there are millions of baseball fans who, next to their favorite team, will cheer for “any team but the Yankees.” Spike argues that having a team that is the Darth Vader of the sport is actually good for the sport and that the Yankees serve a legitimate and healthy purpose in this. I’ll leave that argument for meaningless conversation to have over a pint at the pub.
Still, I have noticed that in the passion and emotions that sports stirs up in people, it is common to have that rival, that enemy team, about whom you feel intense negative emotion. And when you lose, again, to that hated rival you curse them and secretly hope the worst for them even though you know it’s silly and rather meaningless behavior for an adult in a world where there are legitimately other things we should really care about. Nevertheless, sometimes like screaming into a pillow, it feels good to exorcise those negative emotions. It reminds me of a friend of Wendy’s and mine who, as a mother of young children, admitted that some days she sneaks out into the garage to scream profanities that she just has to get out.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 58, is part of a genre of ancient lyrics known by scholars as “imprecatory” songs. To “imprecate” means to “call down curses on another person or persons.” It was a common practice among cultures in the Ancient Near East. For modern readers of the Great Story, imprecatory psalms can be tough to stomach. The language, anger, rage, and emotion of the lyrics are raw. In one verse of David’s lyrics, he asks God to make the wicked like a stillborn baby who never sees life.
Two things I noted as I meditated on David’s lyrical curses in the quiet this morning. First, the focus of David’s curses are wicked, rich rulers who rig the system and don’t care anything about the poor, the needy, and the socially outcast. He’s cursing the injustices of this world and those who propagate them. It’s really the same anger we’ve seen in protests and riots this year.
The second thing is that David is taking his righteous anger, rage, and emotions to God in song. He’s not taking out vengeance himself. He’s not violently taking matters into his own hand. He’s not rooting out the wicked who inspire his rant and executing them which, depending on the time this song was written, he had both the authority and ability to do. Like a young mother screaming F-bombs to her minivan in an empty garage, David is exorcising his emotions to God, who is neither shocked nor surprised by our emotions.
In that way, I think Spike has a good point that it’s good to have a bad guy on whom we exorcise those negative emotions. Along this life journey, I’ve come to acknowledge that I can’t avoid anger. Even Jesus got righteously angry, and Paul told the followers of Jesus in Ephesus not that anger is wrong or bad, but what we do with it. Psalm 58 and the imprecatory psalms were the ancient Hebrews way of getting it out. And, on this post-election morning, it’s not lost on me that there may be many people who need to exorcise some negative emotions in a healthy way.
Spike has often told me “it’s not an official World Series if the Yankees aren’t in it.”
If you’ll excuse me, I think I left something in the garage.